Olaparib (AZD2281) is an oral poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor with antitumour activity in cancer patients with BRCA1/2 germline mutations and in patients with homologous recombination deficiency. In this dose-finding study, patients were randomized to olaparib 10, 30, 100, 200 or 400 mg (capsule formulation) twice daily for the 4-5 days preceding breast cancer surgery. The primary objective was to identify an effective biological dose of olaparib for future trials. Secondary endpoints included evaluation of PARP-1 inhibition dose/exposure-response, and safety. Olaparib plasma pharmacokinetics (PK) and the pharmacodynamics (PD) in tumour and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were evaluated. Population PK/PD modelling was performed on pooled data from this study and a previously reported study. Sixty patients were randomized (n = 12, each dose). Dose-dependent increases in exposure to olaparib were observed, but at ~50 % lower plasma exposure levels than seen in advanced disease studies. The mean maximal extent of PARP inhibition in PBMCs and tumour tissue was 50.6 % and 70.0 %, respectively, and was similar to inhibitory levels reported previously. No PARP inhibition-dose relationship was observed. Due to the unexpectedly low olaparib exposure, we were unable to determine an effective biological dose. Common adverse events included procedural pain (n = 31 patients), nausea, asthenia, malaise and increased blood creatinine (n = 6, each); these were of mild-to-moderate intensity, and all were manageable. Despite low olaparib exposure, PARP inhibition was consistent with previous reports. Reasons for the inter-study differences in exposure are unclear. The tolerability profile of olaparib was consistent with previous studies.