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The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health was created as a nonprofit buffer between NIH and outside companies wishing to fund research, but Stat News says recent ethical missteps call into question whether the foundation is providing that barrier.

"There's a veneer of safety when money is given through FNIH," a former high-ranking NIH official tells Stat News. "Now it's pretty clear FNIH has not provided much safety."

Earlier this year, NIH called off a study into the health effects of alcohol after it found industry players to be too involved in the study's development and cancelled another into pain and addiction funded by drug companies, Stat News adds.

These instances have led lawmakers to ask the FNIH and the similar CDC Foundation to be more transparent about their funding sources. In a proposed spending bill, US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee instructs the foundations to disclose "the source and amount of all monetary gifts" in their annual reports. Stat News adds that some lawmakers have said increased oversight of FNIH isn't off the table.

NIH officials tell Stat News that the agency itself is developing an ethical compliance plan that better shows how to navigate public-private collaborations.