and extend lifespans.
The research, published in the journal Science, shows all of the 117 drugs tested work on the single enzyme through a common mechanism. This means that a whole new class of anti-aging drugs is now viable, which could ultimately prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease and type 2 diabetes.
"Ultimately, these drugs would treat one disease, but unlike drugs of today, they would prevent 20 others," says the lead author of the paper, Professor David Sinclair, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Medicine.
"In effect, they would slow aging," he said.
The target enzyme, SIRT1, is switched on naturally by calorie restriction and exercise, but it can also be enhanced through activators.
The most common naturally-occurring activator is resveratrol, which is found in small quantities in red wine, but synthetic activators with much stronger activity are already being developed.
In animal models, overweight mice given synthetic resveratrol were able to run twice as far as slim mice and they lived 15% longer.
"Now we are looking at whether there are benefits for those who are already healthy. Things there are also looking promising," Sinclair said in a statement.
"We're finding that aging isn't the irreversible affliction that we thought it was. Some of us could live to 150, but we won't get there without more research," he said.
"In the history of pharmaceuticals, there has never been a drug that tweaks an enzyme to make it run faster," said Sinclair.
The technology was sold to pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in 2008. Four thousand synthetic activators, which are 100 times as potent as a single glass of red wine, have been developed - the best three are in human trials.
"Our drugs can mimic the benefits of diet and exercise, but there is no impact on weight," said Sinclair, who suggests the first therapeutic to be marketed will be for diabetes.
There have been limited trials in people with type 2 diabetes and the skin inflammatory disease, psoriasis. There were benefits to the metabolism in the first group and a reduction in skin redness in the second.
The drugs can be administered orally, or topically.
While any drug would be strictly prescribed for certain conditions, Sinclair suggests that one day, they could be taken orally as a preventative.