Aspen Pharmacare’s infant formula business has drawn interest from companies including Reckitt Benckiser and Perrigo, as the largest African drug maker evaluates options for the business, people familiar with the matter said.

Family-owned French dairy group Lactalis and Australia’s iNova Pharmaceuticals, controlled by Pacific Equity Partners and Carlyle Group, are also weighing offers for a stake in the business, according to the people. The unit could fetch a valuation of about $1bn-$1.5bn in a potential sale, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations were private.

Aspen shares soared the most in two months, trading 3.6% higher on the JSE at R262.49 as of 2.03pm.

Aspen said in January it was considering whether to bring in a partner for its infant-milk formula business after receiving an offer in 2017. It said at the time it had hired Centerview Partners as a financial adviser for the review.

Aspen has also sent preliminary information on the business to Chinese infant formula producers including Beingmate Baby & Child Food, Health & Happiness H&H International and Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, the people said. The process is at an early stage, and there is no certainty the companies will proceed to submit bids, the people said.

Aspen may opt to keep the business if the bids aren’t high enough, according to the people. Representatives for Aspen, Carlyle, Pacific Equity Partners and Reckitt declined to comment. Representatives for Beingmate, Health & Happiness, Lactalis, Perrigo and Yili didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Aspen has been using its infant-milk business to drive a push into China. In January, the country’s food and drug administration signed off on the registration of its Alula products, helping Aspen comply with new rules specifying that only registered brands could be sold in the world’s most populous nation.