TOKYO, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks rose slightly on Monday as the early approval of a cancer drug and an improved earnings outlook boosted the healthcare sector in thin trade ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Shares in the consumer staples sector also rose due to hope of a pick-up in spending during the year-end shopping season.
The Nikkei index ended up 0.02% at 23,821.11. It has risen 19% so far this year.
The healthcare sector extended recent gains after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a drug from Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd and AstraZeneca PLC to treat an advanced form of breast cancer, three months ahead of schedule.
AstraZeneca in March signed a licensing and collaboration deal that committed the British drugmaker to pay up to $6.9 billion to its Japanese partner Daiichi Sankyo.
"The pharmaceutical sector has been strong recently," said Kiyoshi Ishigane, chief fund manager at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management Co in Tokyo.
"You can't really say it is a defensive play, but at the same time the sector has risen so much that I would be wary of chasing the upside from here."
Sentiment also remained positive after U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated over the weekend that Washington and Beijing are on track to sign a so-called phase one trade deal that will delay additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for large purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
However, some traders said the deal would not eliminate the potential for additional clashes between the United States and China over trade and foreign policy, which could continue to unsettle the global outlook.
There were 69 advancers on the Nikkei index against 153 decliners on Monday.
The largest percentage gainers were Daiichi Sankyo, up 2.84%, followed by retailer Aeon Co Ltd, gaining 2.77%, and Internet services company Z Holdings Corp, up 2.76%.
The largest percentage losers were Nippon Sheet Glass Co Ltd , down 6.82%, followed by shipbuilder Mitsui E&S Holdings Co Ltd, down 3.56%, and construction and engineering firm JGC Holdings Corp, losing 3.21%.
In mergers-and-acquisitions activity, shares of Unizo Holdings Co Ltd rose 5.31% after the hotel chain on Sunday said it had received a friendly buyout offer from U.S. investment fund Lone Star.
The offer could end a five-month takeover battle involving Blackstone Group Inc, Fortress Investment Group and activist investor Elliott Management.
The broader Topix index fell 0.21% to 1,729.42.
The volume of shares traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's main board was 0.96 billion, compared with the average of 1.21 billion in the past 30 days.
Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Subhranshu Sahu