Merck'sboard elected chief executive Richard Clark as chairman,
giving a vote of confidence to a CEO who has presided over a strong rebound in the drugmaker's share price.
An executive committee of board members has been functioning collectively in the role of chairman since May 2005, when Clark was named CEO in the wake of Merck's withdrawal of its blockbuster Vioxx painkiller.
The appointment will become effective at Merck's annual stockholder meeting in April, the company said.
Merck also said board member Lawrence Bossidy is retiring in April, pursuant to the board's policy of directors retiring at age 72. Bossidy, the former chairman and CEO of conglomerate
Honeywell International, has been part of the board's executive committee.
"Dick has proven to be an outstanding business leader who has provided the strategic thinking and execution skill necessary for the company to regain its momentum and industry stature," Bossidy said in a statement. "The board recognizes that Dick deserves a great deal of the credit for Merck's excellent performance to date."
Also on Wednesday, the board appointed Samuel Thier, who has served on the executive committee, as lead director.
The CEO appointment of Clark, an insider who formerly ran Merck's manufacturing division, was viewed skeptically by some analysts when he was tapped to replace Raymond Gilmartin, who
stepped down ahead of his scheduled retirement.
However during Clark's tenure, Merck shares have rebounded to levels they were before the company's withdrawal of its $2.5 billion-a-year Vioxx for safety reasons initially wiped away
$25 billion of Merck's market value.
Clark has overseen the launch of several important new medicines, including the diabetes drug Januvia and cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, that have heartened investors about Merck's prospects.
Further, the New Jersey-based company has prevailed in eight of 12 product-liability trials involving Vioxx, tempering investor anxiety over the potential damages the company may
ultimately face over the drug.
Merck still faces more than 27,000 lawsuits from people who claimed to have been harmed by Vioxx.