By Soyoung Kim and Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) - Private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC has selected JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Citigroup to lead an initial public offering of eye care company Bausch & Lomb, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
The proposed IPO could raise as much as $1.5 billion and is expected to value Bausch and Lomb at about $9 billion to $10 billion, according to one of the people, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Warburg Pincus continues to explore a private sale of the eye care company it acquired more than five years ago, and is working with Goldman Sachs to find a buyer, the person said.
The auction attracted interest from several healthcare companies including Sanofi SA, but none of the interested parties met Warburg Pincus' price expectations so far, prompting the buyout firm to lean toward an IPO, people familiar with the matter have said.
Founded in 1853, Rochester, New York-based Bausch & Lomb makes contact lenses, eye drugs and surgical equipment and sells its products in more than 100 countries.
The company was taken private by Warburg Pincus in 2007 for about $4.5 billion, including $830 million of debt, after it fell out of Wall Street's favor because of product recalls, big charges and restatements of earnings. Warburg Pincus committed over $1 billion of equity toward the buyout.
Since then it has undergone a transformation under Chief Executive Brent Saunders, who joined in March 2010 and has built up the business through acquisitions, most recently taking over Germany's Technolas Perfect Vision GmbH, an eye laser firm, in November.
Bausch & Lomb's main competitors are healthcare heavyweights Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Abbott Laboratories, for whom eye care is only a minor focus.
Representatives for Warburg Pincus, JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup declined to comment.
Bloomberg News reported the hiring of JPMorgan as one of the lead underwriters earlier on Friday.