* Eisai jumps 20 pct on Barclays’ rating hike citing Alzheimer’s drug hope * Sharp soars after Hon Hai says it is considering rescuing * Nikkei’s 20,000 in sight near term – analysts By Ayai Tomisawa TOKYO, March 23 (Reuters) – Japan’s Nikkei share average rose to a fresh 15-year high on Monday, tracking gains in U.S. shares, while Eisai Co jumped over 20 percent after a brokerage upgraded the stock, citing the effectiveness of its drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Eisai soared to a record high of 8,748 yen after Barclays raised its stock rating to ‘overweight’ from ‘equalweight’. It was the second most traded stock by turnover, and contributed a hefty 60 positive points to the Nikkei benchmark.

According to a report obtained by Reuters, Barclays said that the results of a Phase Ib study on Alzheimer’s diseases treatment drug BIIB037 were announced at an industry conference in Nice, France, over the weekend.

By mid-morning, the Nikkei was up 1.1 percent to 19,772.47, its highest intraday level since April 2000.

The benchmark has gained 13 percent so far this year, outperforming other markets such as U.S. shares, whose S&P 500 index has gained 2.3 percent during the same term.

While the softer yen is no longer providing as much catalyst for Japanese stocks, optimism over a steady recovery in the economy, improved corporate earnings and better shareholder returns have stoked demand for Japanese shares.

“Sentiment for Japanese stocks has been positive, and the 20,000-mark is in sight in the short-term,” said Isao Kubo, equity strategist at Nissay Asset Management.

“When it is nearing the end of the fiscal year, hopes for stronger full-year earnings also buoyed the mood.” Sharp Corp soared 4.2 percent to a 1-1/2-week high after Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry said it is considering joining efforts to help rescue the struggling electronics goods maker.

Exporters were mixed. Toyota Motor Corp added 1.2 percent, and Honda Motor Co added 0.6 percent and Tokyo Electron shed 0.2 percent.

The broader Topix gained 0.8 percent to 1,592.80, and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 advanced 0.8 percent to 14,473.20.

(Editing by Kim Coghill)