Continuing its post-Vioxx makeover, Merck & Co. Inc.'s chief financial officer and onetime heir-apparent, Judy Lewent, will take early retirement this summer, the company said today.

Lewent, 58, who has been credited with helping Merck regain its financial footing after the 2004 recall of its blockbuster pain-reliever Vioxx, had been jumped over for the No. 1 spot in 2005 by Richard Clark. Lewent and other top executives were further eclipsed last year when CEO Clark installed Peter Loescher as the global marketing chief and new No. 2 executive.

In a statement, Clark said Lewent's "business and financial acumen, keen strategic thinking and analytical skills have made her an invaluable advisor and colleague. I speak personally and also for investors and employees when I state that she will be greatly missed."

The departure allows Clark to appoint his own finanical chief, rounding out Merck's post-Vioxx leadership. Several top executives at the time of the recall are now gone or demoted, including Clark's predecessor, Raymond Gilmartin. Only the current R&D chief, Peter Kim, was in place before Vioxx was recalled.

The company said it will consider "both internal and external candidates" to succeed Lewent.

An investment banker by training, Lewent had been CFO for 17 years.

Merck's statement quoted her as saying: "I am proud of the highly innovative medicines and vaccines that we have brought to people around the world, and I am proud to have played a role in helping to position the company for long-term growth. I am equally proud of the finance organization that I helped to recruit and build."

According to Merck's proxy statement filed last month, Lewent's base salary last year was $834,756 and she got a $793,018 bonus. She also held more shares - 425,043, worth $18.9 million at today's price - than any other current executive. She was also due up to $8.7 million in retirement payments.

Contact staff writer Thomas Ginsberg at 215-854-4177 or tginsberg@phillynews.com.