Merck & Co., which is struggling to rebound from the withdrawal of its arthritis drug Vioxx, named Richard T. Clark as its new chief executive officer and president, effective immediately. 

He succeeds Raymond Gilmartin, who has served as chairman and CEO of the company since 1994.

Mr. Clark, 59 years old, was president of Merck’s manufacturing division and previously served as the chairman and CEO of Medco Health Solutions Inc. He will also join the Merck board. Merck didn’t name a new chairman.

Mr. Clark “has consistently shown that he can lead necessary change at Merck while remaining true to the company’s core values,” said Lawrence A. Bossidy, who is chairman of the Merck committee that conducted the succession process.

Merck shares were down 18 cents, or 0.5%, to $34.75 in early New York Stock Exchange trading Thursday.

Mr. Bossidy, a former chairman and CEO of Honeywell International Inc., will also serve as chairman of the board’s newly structured executive committee, which the company said will work closely with Mr. Clark to “provide support and continuity as he assumes his new duties.”

Last fall, Merck’s board launched a search for a successor to Mr. Gilmartin, who was required to retire by March 2006 when he turns 65. Merck’s costly and embarrassing withdrawal of Vioxx fueled speculation that Mr. Gilmartin wouldn’t serve until his scheduled departure.

Merck said Mr. Gilmartin will serve as special adviser to the board’s executive committee, “providing expertise in the areas of global public policy, government and regulatory affairs, and charitable contributions” until March 2006, when he will retire.

In a statement, Mr. Gilmartin said: “I look forward to my new role as special advisor and to helping this transition work as smoothly as possible.”

Merck, of Whitehouse Station, N.J., withdrew Vioxx from the market last Sept. 30 after a study suggested it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in those taking the drug for more than 18 months. Merck now faces Vioxx liability that some analysts have estimated could top $20 billion.

Last month, Merck reported first-quarter net income fell 15% to $1.37 billion, or 62 cents a share, down from $1.62 billion, or 73 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Revenue fell 4.8% to $5.36 billion, hurt by the lack of Vioxx revenue and a decline in sales of its Zocor cholesterol drug.

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