A minute with... Professor Kovin Naidoo

The new CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute reflects on the Institute’s achievements in 2015 and shares plans for 2016

Kovin Naidoo
Congratulations on your appointment as CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI). 

Thank you. I must express our gratitude to all those who have supported us through the traumatic loss of Professor Brien Holden.

What were the key achievements of the BHVI in 2015?

The increased interest and engagement by industry in the use of our intellectual property for myopia control and presbyopia management gave much impetus to the activities of the Institute during 2015. In this context, the appreciation of our extended depth of focus (EDOF) technology has spurred us to invest more in this area. A first for us was our EDOF contact lenses for the correction of presbyopia receiving US FDA clearance early in 2015. In the past we have relied on industry partners to commercialise technology we've co-developed, but in this case the research was conducted solely in-house. The product was developed and regulatory process managed by our subsidiary BHV Pty Ltd.

The partnership we forged with Bono and Revo was a major achievement and a result of years of advocacy efforts to raise awareness about uncorrected refractive error and hard work to establish the BHVI as a leading eye care NGO in the world.

In March 2014, we hosted the World Health Organization (WHO) in Sydney for a joint global scientific meeting on myopia, with experts from each WHO region attending. This was an important formal recognition of myopia as a rising global public health issue and will act as a springboard to ramp up collaborations between researchers, obtain greater government support of myopia research and education programmes.

In education we've developed a new platform to host our expanding range of teaching and learning resources, including an updated version of the virtual refractor. Our Myopia Management Program also promises to be a major boost for practitioners committed to addressing the challenge of myopia control.

The initiation of the Myopia Institute by the BHVI, as an independent, inclusive organisation for all eye care practitioners and researchers, as has seen the birth of an intellectual engine to drive efforts in myopia and myopia control. It will ensure that various individuals and organisations can collectively shape the future of myopia and myopia control, placing society's needs first and foremost.

Overall, 2015 was a busy and successful year.

You mentioned the BHVI’s partnership with Revo and Bono. How is this aiding the Institute's Our Children's Vision initiative?

Every purchase of Revo sunglasses will see $10 go to the BHVI to support our work in bringing comprehensive eye care services to people in need. Support includes training to increase the numbers of eye care practitioners, equipping and supporting eye units, and providing access to affordable spectacles.

A core focus of the Institute is our work with children, and we established the new global campaign, Our Children's Vision, to act as a catalyst to upscale, accelerate and expand access to eye health services for children. The goal is to ensure children’s eye health is included in global, regional and national children’s health, and education development agendas. We are working to ensure this by creating a global coalition of partners dedicated to improving health, development and education outcomes for children.

The commitment of Bono and Revo to support the Institute is an extraordinary one. The financial commitment will, among others, support Our Children's Vision campaign and ensure millions of children in under-served communities now have access to eye care, removing at least one of the developmental challenges they may face.

The public support of Bono and Revo will help raise the profile of the campaign, enabling us to reach out to new audiences and supporters, which in turn will ensure even more children around the world will get the care they need.

"A meta-analysis conducted by the Institute found that in 2000 nearly 23% of the world's population had myopia and this is estimated to rise to nearly 49% by year 2050"

What are the key objectives for the BHVI in 2016?

Following the momentum generated by the WHO meeting and pending the release of the resulting report, we need to ensure that myopia is placed on to the health agendas of governments worldwide. We are committed to undertaking the necessary advocacy, research and education initiatives to raise awareness about the sight-threatening risks associated with myopia, to develop more effective treatments and to ensure optometry practitioners have the best evidence-based knowledge to manage patients.

We will also continue the commercialisation of our EDOF contact lens for presbyopia to ensure patients have access to this new technology.

In addition, we will be leveraging the Revo and Bono partnership to maximise awareness of the need of more than 625 million people worldwide to have access to an eye examination and appropriate spectacles. We will also be working diligently to implement the Our Children’s Vision initiative (reaching 50 million children by 2020), as well as deliver on our commitment to provide eye care to five million adults and children by 2020, with Revo and Bono’s support.

We will also be focused on raising awareness about the impact of uncorrected presbyopia on people’s lives and the need for the WHO’s International Classification of Disease to include near vision impairment in its definition of vision impairment and blindness.

Our researchers will continue to seek improved treatments for myopia and presbyopia and we will be expanding our partnership with industry, as many of our discussions in 2015 have opened new doors and opportunities for us.

Finally, we expect some of our intellectual property to be commercialised, thus impacting on access to appropriate corrections for millions of people around the world.

How can we work to halt the growing number of people affected by myopia?

The statistics for the burden of myopia are alarming. A meta-analysis conducted by the Institute found that in 2000 nearly 23% of the world's population had myopia and this is estimated to rise to nearly 49% by year 2050. As a consequence, the level of high myopia and associated complications, such as myopic macular degeneration, are set to rise.

Indeed, myopia macular degeneration is already one of the leading causes of blindness and vision impairment in some parts of the world. It is fast becoming clear that the approach to limit the burden needs to be a concerted one involving communities, care providers and the individuals needs consideration and implementation of strategies to limit the burden of myopia.

At the level of the profession, we need to encourage practitioners to think differently about myopia and embrace the holistic management of the patient insofar as myopia control is concerned. Our Myopia Management Program is aimed at empowering optometrists with the skills to tackle this major public health challenge. Through the Myopia Institute we now have a vehicle that can give the intellectual leadership to the management of myopia and ensure that an inclusive approach is adopted in establishing guidelines.

Can you share plans on your caffeine derivative, 7-MX which is said to hold promise for myopia control?

The BHVI is interested in exploring a number of interventions that are aimed at slowing the progression of myopia and holds patented technology for optical devices aimed at slowing the progression of myopia. The 7-MX is a promising development that is initiated and run by one of our partners. We have supported this effort through our research to determine the potential of 7-Methylxanthine in slowing the progression of myopia.

When do you think we will see licensed products for myopia control in the UK?

There already exist a number of options including optical, therapeutic and environmental strategies in controlling the onset and/or progression of myopia and is promising for the future of products for myopia control. Clearly, a number of regulatory and product specific pathways need to be approached in a systematic manner for product registration and it appears that a number of organisations, including the BHVI, are working to ensure that products are available soon.

Can you update us on the progress of the accommodating gel project?

The accommodating gel project partners, which include the BHVI, the University of Miami and the L V Prasad Eye Institute in India, are completing their preclinical evaluation of the optimised injectable siloxane macromonomer, and consolidating project technology in preparation for seeking ophthalmic industry collaborators or licensing to continue development.