Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

shares sank again Friday after the latest development in the Vioxx recall saga.

The drugmaker early today said it had posted a scientific critique on its Web site to "further clarify for the scientific community why Merck disagrees with the conclusions" of an article published in this week's issue of

The Lancet

, the British medical journal.

In a brief statement, Merck reiterated its disagreement with the methodology used. The British medical journal reported there was sufficient evidence of the dangerous side effects of the drug by the end of 2000, but the data was not analyzed properly.

Questions about Merck's handling of safety issues surrounding Vioxx and the related risk of heart attacks prior to its eventual recall in September continue to dog the drugmaker, further devaluing its already-beaten-down stock. Merck has repeatedly said it made the recall at the right time, based on the best information available at the time.

The Vioxx recall has raised new questions about the tenure of Merck Chairman and CEO Raymond Gilmartin, who is not scheduled to retire until 2006. Gilmartin's reign has been marked by a series of stumbles in the last couple years, culminating in the recall of Vioxx, its No. 2 drug.

Merck shares were down 74 cents, or 2.7%, to $26.28, a new 52-week low and a level not seen since 1996. The stock closed at $45.07 on Sept. 29, the day before the company said it was pulling Vioxx from the market.