The idea of a pill for aging sounds like science fiction or fantasy. But the hunt is increasingly real. At the cutting edge of research, scientists and doctors are already deep into the quest for a drug that could transform the experience of aging. The goal isn’t a pharmaceutical fountain of youth, exactly; nobody is promising to stretch human lifespans indefinitely. Instead, they’re looking for a way to ensure healthier aging—a drug that could make it more likely people reach their eighth or ninth decade of life with fewer of the ailments that make old age painful and disabling for millions, and cripplingly expensive for the health care system.

The leading approach even has a name: senolytic drugs. The science is still far from proven; it may turn out that like many new ideas, these drugs never show up in American medicine cabinets at all. But the prospect of a drug for healthier aging has already attracted significant investment from well-known drug companies, and the first human studies of anti-aging drugs are getting underway. If the results pan out, the first drugs could be available in as little as a decade.