Jerry Barker is a Winston-Salem business leader with an eye on preventing blindness around the world.

Barker is CEO of a Winston-Salem company developing new ways to restore human sight through corneal transplants. And on Thursday he announced a partnership with a West Coast eye bank.

Ocular Systems, Inc.(OSI), which sells corneal tissue from human donors for transplantation, as well as related supplies and devices, announced that it has “come together” with Seattle-based global nonprofit SightLife.

Neither organization disclosed terms of the arrangement. But they said in a joint news release that the deal makes the combined organization “the largest provider of corneal tissue for transplant in the world.”

OSI, which Baker founded in 2004, has been working for the past several years to develop new eye-saving technologies in collaboration with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the North Carolina Eye Bank.

In 2012 the three entities formed a company based on regenerative medicine technology for engineering replacement corneas for transplantation.

Funding for that company, known as HCEC (an acronym for Human Cultured Endothelial Cells), came in part from a $90,000 Collaborative Funding Grant awarded in 2010 by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Barker has since become an active member of the Center’s Piedmont Triad Advisory Committee.

Today’s agreement appears to extend the reach of everyone involved.

“Together, SightLife and OSI will build a company that can make our goal of eliminating corneal blindness in the next 25 years a reality,” said Monty Montoya, president and CEO of SightLife.

“Combining with OSI will accelerate SightLife’s global work to help eye banks in underserved parts of the world develop capacity and serve the needs of the corneal blind in their own communities.”

In 2013, OSI, SightLife, and its 15 partner eye banks in India, Nepal, Ethiopia and other countries provided more than 20,000 corneas for transplant, restoring sight to an average of 55 people a day around the world.

There are 10 million corneal blind people worldwide who could see, if given a corneal transplant.

Editor’s note: Jim Shamp is Director of Public Relations for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

(C) NC Biotechnology Center