updated 10/12/2004 8:22:43 AM ET 2004-10-12T12:22:43

Raymond Gilmartin, Merck & Co.'s chairman and chief executive, still says he has no plans to step down ahead of his mandatory retirement in 2006.

Speaking in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Gilmartin said that the company, which pulled its multibillion-dollar pain drug Vioxx off the market on Sept. 30 due to cardiac side effects, had planned to seek successors as part of due diligence.

Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Merck's board is screening possible headhunting firms to identify outside CEO candidates. Gilmartin said that had been the board's plan for over a year. However, until now, Gilmartin and Merck have maintained that they wanted his successor to come from inside the company.

He declined to say how long he would like to have an outside successor, if one should be chosen, working at the company before taking over his reins. The company loses patent protection on its blockbuster cholesterol drug Zocor the same year that Gilmartin retires, so it will be a transition year for the company anyway.

He also reiterated his long-term stance that the company opposes a large-scale merger. Rumors have circulated that the company could be a takeover candidate because of its depressed stock price, following the Vioxx recall. Gilmartin said that the company has "absolutely not" been approached by another company interested in buying it.

Merck shares gained 39 cents Monday to close at $30.74 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares plunged nearly 27 percent, more than $12, on the day it yanked Vioxx from the market.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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