Public Health England (PHE), the Department of Health (DHSC) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are seeking 2,500 volunteers from among NHS staff and other key workers to trial out a finger-prick home testing kit.
The tests can tell whether a person has had coronavirus in the past, which some believe implies a level of immunity against the disease.
However, academics and clinicians have raised concerns about antibody testing. Experts writing in the British Medical Journal said such test results should not alter how a patient is treated, stressing that a positive result “does not indicate immunity”.
The Government has insisted that research into the tests is vital to helping health officials better understand the virus.
A DHSC spokesman said: “No reliable home test has yet been found, and we do not know whether antibodies indicate immunity from reinfection or transmission.
“This research is part of our ongoing surveillance work to increase our understanding of how to tackle this virus.”
Boris Johnson previously hailed antibody testing as a “game-changer”.
Volunteers will be recruited who have tested positive for the virus previously, alongside those who have tested negative.
The Government said it was “essential that we understand exactly how effective these home kits are when used by the public, and how easy they are to use”.
A range of the rapid response kits are to be evaluated, including one from a group headed up by Oxford University.
The Rapid Test Consortium, made up of Oxford University and four UK manufacturers – BBI Solutions, Abingdon Health, CIGA Healthcare and Omega Diagnostics – claims its device is highly accurate.
It uses a finger prick of blood to produce results in 10 minutes.
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, who has been overseeing the Government’s antibody research told the BBC: “We’ve really set the gold standard in what you need to expect from these tests and I suspect a lot of people will be really interested in what we have produced in the last couple of months.”
Initial results from the new home testing trial are expected in the coming weeks.
It comes after the Government announced plans to repeatedly test around 10,000 care home residents and staff to help health officials understand more about patterns of outbreaks over time.
The repeat testing will give a “detailed picture” of infections in more than 100 care homes in England and allow them to react quickly to outbreaks, the DHSC said.
The research will be carried out by the health department, University College London and the NHS data foundry in 106 facilities run by Four Seasons Care Homes.
It will aim to provide a comprehensive picture of how outbreaks play out over time within the same home.
Swab and antibody tests will be used over the next 12-18 months to track who has the virus, past exposure and infection, providing “reassurance” to residents and staff.
Consenting participants will have three rounds of blood tests and three rounds of swab tests over a period of three to four months.
Care minister Helen Whately said: “The results of this study will help inform our future plans for managing the pandemic, to protect the public and those who receive care as we work to carefully return to normality.”