Agency braces for sale of Bausch & Lomb and its eye-care portfolio

As eye-care company Bausch & Lomb prepares to sell itself to a private equity firm, the agency handling the bulk of its Rx franchise is concerned how a loss of independence could affect marketing. B&L agreed to a sale to private equity firm Warburg Pincus for $4.5 billion but said it will solicit other bids. A private takeover would remove the device and pharmaceuticals firm from public view as it seeks to regroup from recent setbacks including the recall last year of contact-lens solution due to a link to a fungal infection. It also might mean replacing managers who have a strong understanding of the eye-care market. "I’ll be looking for how much autonomy [B&L] will be left with after a potential sale," said Steve Viviano, president of Integrated Communications, a unit of IPG’s Lowe Healthcare. Integrated launched B&L uveitis implant Retisert in 2005 and has three other B&L brands on its roster: Rx eyedrops Zylet, Alrex and Lotemax. "The more autonomy they get, the more they’ll be able to continue with what they think is right," Viviano said, adding that it's been "fairly business as usual" since the sale was announced. The rest of B&L's prescription vision-care line includes the Vitrasert implant and OptiPranolol ocular drops. Under the deal with Warburg, all outstanding B&L shares would be acquired for $65 per share in cash, a 26% premium over the average stock price prior to the start of takeover rumors. In a statement about the Warburg purchase, the company said it “may solicit superior proposals from third parties during the next 50 calendar days.” If its board decides on an alternative transaction, B&L would have to pay Pincus affiliates a $40 million break-up fee. B&L’s stock closed higher last week, a sign the marketplace expects other bidders to emerge.